Chapter 1

Last New Year’s Eve

My mother was center stage, right there in the spotlight, dressed as Queen Clytemnestra. It was her first role and her favorite, wife of King Agamemnon from the play by Aeschylus, the first play I ever saw, in a dark, smoke-filled shanty theatre in Paris. She wore that same dress, screaming red. A prop sword in one hand, the other pulling back the cotton head of our mascot Tragos, tragedy my friend, that janitor in drag.

“Troy has fallen!”

The crowd cheered on like Spartan whores, like clapping seals and Sirens, whistling shame.

Mother held the sword aloft to the sound of more applause, then she let it fall; and silent it fell soft along the seams of that poor mascot’s head. And off it came, the crowd roared on, applauding as it ran bloodless down, down, down, down, off the stage into the crowd. A thespian in a black mask scooped it up, hoisted it into the air, and shouted:

“Happy new year!”

“Happy new year!”

The bloodless sacrifice complete, the Gods appeased, the janitor in the buffoonish goat-suit was hurried off the stage. He stumbled into the crowd to retrieve his head. After a brief scuffle with some drunk asshole in the front row, it was returned to him. Mother raised her hand to bring the crowd to silence again, ever the conductor, a virtuoso playing their preferred instrument: a crowd of two hundred at capacity, and more if you didn’t mind standing or sitting in an aisle, or on the floor.

“I’d like to thank you all for coming, first of all,” mother said. “It’s a pleasure and a privilege, truly, to see you all tonight, to have such support from the community and our friends, and our family. So, on behalf of everyone here at the La petite illusion, the Players and the Faces, thank you making this year’s Christmas play such a success. And remember, when you see the stage light come on…” a large, bright light flickered into life above the stage. “When you see that light, it’ll ten minutes until midnight. So, if you’re interested in joining us for the bonfire, make sure to meet us at stage door left when you see the light. Now, until then, enjoy the music! Enjoy the wine! I’ll see you all at midnight!”

More applause. She smiled, and smiling walked away, waving with a rigid, cupped hand like an aged beauty Queen, forever a rose, a rose forever to fade but never wilt; mother would have to be buried alive. The house band, just four college kids on holiday, had gathered in front of the drawn curtains and began to set up. Two young men and two guitars with nylon strings, la-la-la-la-la. A digital grand that clanged for a young lady, about my age or thereabouts, a lovely piano, upright on rolling wheels, one violinist, Chinese and demure, very thin and sexy.

Behind the curtain was a softer symphony, unheard, drowned by the cheerful holiday music mixed with a mumbling crowd of Faces and masked patrons, the soft symphony in silence behind the scenes, , drowned out by this cheerful and familiar holiday music, a chorus of shuffling feet.

And Jack Cade said it best:

I have thought upon it, it shall be so.

Away, burn

all the records of the realm:

my mouth shall be the parliament of England.

“Spare none,” he said.

And none were spared.

Not one chair, nor table cloth, everything had to burn, just painted kindling, a great buffet by poor Camille, a discount muse but worth each Franc.

With our audience and patrons, and anyone who’d wandered in for a drink or a show, everyone who gathered for this show, playing the voyeur, all costumed and masked, to burn those props—that was the show, that was the point. Camille was one of the few staff members I knew personally; a young girl and very pretty, kind of dim and shy, she sat on the flyloft above the stage, suspended from the rafters with her feet dangling off. The rest were kept in costume while at work, as per mother’s instruction.

The workers without masks were Faces in theatre lingo, always behind the stage or in front, never on it, forever locked in one poor role, confined by their own skin. The rest, the actors and performers and staff, save for me and Lain and Camille, they were Abstracts, they were character, like that poor goat Tragedy; they were Players, and as such were never given, nor did they give, real names, and were never to be referred to as such. Referring to them by their character names, mother told me, helped their performances. It probably gave them acute impostor syndrome too, but that didn’t matter, not as long as the reviews were good. Tragedy joined us at the bar.

“Good evening, Tragos,” said Lain.

“Nice to see you, Charles,” said Tragos. They shook hands warmly.

“You know, Robert,” said Lain, “I think you’re the only person I know who dies for a living.”

He smiled.

“I had no idea why Madame Nanty wanted me to dress like this, much less pretend to cut my damn head off. You know how I found out? My mom was born in Athens, not far from where that shit started, an offering to the Gods. What an offering!”

We all laughed.

“Yeah,” I said, looking over to Lain. “You know, when theatre began, it was basically a cult, a boy’s only club, all based around a ritual celebration. It was a cult, a cult of Dionysus, God of fertility and wine.”

“To Dionysus!” said Robert.

“To fertility and wine!” Lain said.

“They sacrificed real animals before the start of every play,” I said. “To honor the Gods, naturally. Theatres were outside back them, you know, you do what you have to do.” And, at the start of each performance, they sacrificed a goat to honor the Gods. Theatres were outside then; you did what you had to do.”

“And we just sacrifice our dignity,” said Lain.

“We’d probably do the same, if we had to,” I said. “Think about what we go through already, sacrificing our dignity to critics, starving ourselves to fit in costumes to be scrutinized and judged by out of shape assholes. Gods are easy, critics are not won so easily, and if sacrificing a goat got us a better write up, a better review in nouvelles de divertissement, we’d have a farm behind the fucking theatre.”

Lain laughed, “No expense, no goat, no mercy!”

“Lance!” I called, turning away. Lain was explaining his new play to Robert.

There were three bartenders on staff, all well dressed; tuxedos and simplistic masks. Lance was the only Face at the bar. He was very prim, very proper, and neat, very neat, and too much so. At least for me. I imagined that his father beat him. He approached the end of the bar where we were sitting:

“Yes, mademoiselle?”

“You see that guy in the goat costume?” I asked.

Lance nodded, “Yes, mademoiselle.”

“I want you to take him the Cote Chalonnaise,” I gestured toward the underside of the opposing cabinet. “And, yeah, that one. And, grab the green—that one, yes! the Macon. And get him a couple of decent glasses, tall.”

“Who am I to say it is from?”

“It’s ‘whom’!” Lain shouted at him. “Fucking idiot!”

“Tell him it is from the Queen,” I said, talking over Lain.

“If the person is the subject of the sentence, you say ‘whom’…”

“Yes, mademoiselle,” Lance said, never breaking character. And he kept on. And on.

After retrieving the bottles and two tall, slender glasses, Lance handed them to Robert.

“And you shouldn’t end a sentence with ‘from.’ Because…”

The Cote Chalonnaise was especially nice, and the dusty bottle was a sure way to tweak the nipples of a connoisseur.

“Prepositions are there to show the relationship between the noun and the pronoun…”

Robert took the bottles one by one, and lovingly, then the glasses. He sat them down and read the dusty labels.

“From whom? Well, to whom shall I say? That sounds bad, whom shall I say? No…”

“Compliments of the Queen,” said Lance.

He was without costume finally, in a comfortable button up shirt. The man looking back at me was a stranger then, somehow less real without his mask.”

“It’s from mother!” I said. “She forgot to give it to you on Christmas.”

“You’re just a noun, you know. You’re a diminutive little noun, unworthy of superlative or adverb…”

“Lain, shut the fuck up!” I said. “English isn’t his first language!”

“It’s not mine either!”

“Merci,” Robert said. “My wife is going to go crazy when she sees the year on this Chalonnaise.”

“Thank you Robert!” I said. “We’re very grateful to have you here!”

“We all know who the Queen is,” he said. He smiled, bid us a very good evening, and walked away, with Tragedy dissolving into just another member of the unnamed supporting cast.

I called for Lance again. He approached after serving to middle-aged ladies dressed like slutty angels.

“Two fingers of bourbon for me,” I said, “and take Lain one of his pussy drinks.”

“Such as?” he asked.

“Something fruity,” I said. “A white Russian, perhaps? Yes, that’ll do. Thanks, Lance.”

He returned a moment later with our orders.

“Two fingers of Jim for mademoiselle,” said Lance, “and a white Russian for Monsieur Pinon.”

“That’s racist,” said Lain.

I sat my glass on a square napkin, pretending not to notice Lance’s number scribbled on it in hurried, purple penstrokes. Painfully obvious and Lain caught a glimpse when I passed him his drink. He didn’t say a word, but I saw it in his eyes, a small defeat. He took a generous sip from his glass.

“Anything else?” asked Lance.

“Not now,” I said. “Now, fuck off.”

“Yes, mademoiselle,” he said. He returned to serving the other costumers. I turned to Lain.

“Cheers, Monsieur Pinon!” I said. He smilled despite himself. I raised my glass.

“Cheers, Mademoiselle Brisbois!” said Lain, raising his The glasses clinked together and we both finished our drinks in one long, profane gulp.

We chatted between shots, taking in the sights and sounds, the live band playing merry music, the smell of liquor and cheap perfume in the air, small clouds of cigarette smoke swirling under low-hanging, red-tinted spiderlamps. The audience was alive with mirth and conversation, the social butterflies buzzing, deaf to the fools with nets behind them. Lain was doing the same: silently judging everyone, trying to guess who those people were, beneath the mask, what kind of animals were they without those feathers? Or was there nothing but feathers, and nothing under the mask but another one, or a smooth face, smooth as a cue ball and just as featureless and memorable.

“Here’s to The Little Illusion,” Lain. He held up his empty shot glass. I raised mine. They clinked together with a hollow clink! as we tossed back the drink that wasn’t there.

“Best of the night!” said Lain.

“Here’s to it,” I said.

The hollow sound the glasses made when they clinked together somehow got through: when you’re 5’4”, don’t match drinks with a guy over 6 feet tall. Especially not a Russian.

“I hope you’re being careful,” a far-off, snobbish voice said. It was her superpower, judgment, arising for the perfect moment from the darkness. I straightened my back and turned my bloodshot eyes back to white. A strange talent, I’d discovered it in drama school.

“Tell her, Lain,” she said, “If she’s going to do Anna again this year at the Medea, she needs to watch her weight.”

“Yeah, I wouldn’t want to kill myself and be fat,” I said.

Lain laughed, and mother turned to him and smiled, a broad and bright smile. It was her way of saying, you’re funny, but not quite funny enough to earn my laughter. A smile, and that’s it, you fucking peasant.

“Bonne soirée, Charles,” she said. “Comment çava?”

“Il est une merveilleuse nuit putain,” he said. “Pardon my French.”

She smiled.

“Such a clever boy,” she said. “You need to talk Renette into growing her hair back out so she can keep getting leading roles.”

“You see,” Lain said. “That’s the problem. You can’t negotiate with fire.”

“But she had such lovely hair.”

“Renette could get any role in Paris if she were bald.”

“I know you love her.”

“Everybody loves Renette,” said Lain. “Except Renette, of course.”

Mother smiled again.

“Take care of her, Lain,” she said. “I’ll see you later. Renette, behave yourself! I don’t want to find you under the bar!”

“Where are you going?” I asked.

“I’m going to meet with a new director,” she said. “A potential director, that is. I saw a really good production of his last week and got his contact information from the Exchange. So, I’m going to show him around, show him how we do things here. Hopefully we can get him on board and do something really, truly new. I’ll see you in a bit.”

She leaned in and kissed Lain and both sides of his cheek, and then me.

“I love you two,” she said.

“See you then,” I said. “Remember: don’t leave your drinks attended around Lianne. Just saying.”

“We love you too, Madame.”

She smiled again. Fucking peasant.

“Make her behave, Lain,” she said. “Don’t let her drink too much.”

“Remember King Lear,” said Lain. “‘Get not between a dragon and its wrath’? It’s like that with her.”

“Good lad,” she said and turned to walk away. “Good evening, Charles.”

He fucking hated being called Charles.

“Good evening, Mme. Nanty!” Lain called.

She thrust a hand into the air and waved without turning round. In mere moments she had disappeared as quickly as she had appeared. Lain followed her through the crowd; excellent vision, somehow keeping track of her. The red, of course. The Russian blood.

“That’s racist.”

He nudged my shoulder.

“Who is that?” he asked. “Look, right over there.”

He nudged my shoulder.

“What?”

“Who’s that?” he asked. “Look, right there. The guy with the mask.” He gestured across the gallery, lit only by sparse dining table candles. I followed his pointed finger, bouncing from one masked face to another.

“Are you fucking with me?” I asked. “Everywhere is over there!”

It didn’t take me long to catch a glimpse of the man. He stood out somehow, my mother very animated, holding his hands in hers and smiling broadly. It was the mask, a damn grotesque but lovely in that twisted way, lovely in the way a flower growing from a boot might be. It was a faded white, an ivory color, the color of Time and dust, snowflakes and cigarette ash. The nose was very prominent, about nine inches give or take, hanging from his face but not too sharp. Grotesque, sure, but not horrific. The rest of his clothes were black, save for his cuffs, both white with a black button in.

“I hope we can get a good director here,” said Lain.

I nodded.

“As fun as it is to do all those Shakespeare plays,” he said. “I didn’t come to France to do the same shit they do off-Broadway in New York.”

“Why the fuck did you come to France, again?”

“For you,” he said. “You know that.”

I smiled, turning to look toward the upper crosswalk again where mother had stood with the strange little man and his Pinocchio mask. They were gone. I scanned the crowd to no avail, the liquor making itself known to us both.

I sat my glass down and Lain followed. Lance hurried over to collect, thanking me profusely for a €50 tip. We walked from the bar, humming together, our heart beats keeping tempo; I was stumbling drunk, my arm around Alain. He smelled like old books, like a fine mahogany desk. He kept me up-right somehow. We weaved in between one patron after another and finally found mother and my little sister Lianne at the exit, precious Lee, and more were gathering as the green light above the stage had come on. Lianne said hello to Lain and he knelt and took her little hand into his and kissed it, saying,

“Madame shook her hand, “Madame.” She smiled a toothy smile, her two front teeth missing.

They began to gather in ever larger groups in front of us, what was left of my family. And Lain, of course. Alain. It was a large crowd. Many were as drunk as we were but all were polite, well poised and surprisingly proper for a French mob in Friday voyeur masks.

“Alright,” mother said. “Hey, hey!”

She whistled, a whistle so loud it hurt. “Listen!”

Get not between a dragon and its wrath.

Everyone went quiet quickly.

“Now, we’re all here to have fun, but be careful and don’t get too close to the fire. And once it gets started, please stay behind the crossguards. One simple rule: if it’s taller than you are, don’t get near it! That goes for you too Lain!”

Everybody laughed.

HAHAHA.

“Okay? Great! Now, follow me.”

She flung the swinging doors open, outward into a cold night, the crowd spilling out in single file behind us. And there we were, scene of the crime. I imagined my grandfather’s ghost still walking through those ruins, never to rest, looking for his satin curtains with the dancing plague and grandma on piano. After everyone had gathered in front of the pile of painted sets and props, the kind we couldn’t use anyway since the matte painting was by then damaged by the stage light’s heat and fading, mother opened the easily negotiable barrier between the scenic kindling, carrying a single candle. She struck a match and lit it. She spoke:

“50 years ago, during the German occupation of France, German soldiers burned this theatre down,” she said.

Print the myth.

“When the war ended, my grandmother raised enough money from the public to rebuild this theatre, with the help of patrons and friends just like you. And over the next half century it has become our home and a part of our culture. As it passed to me when mother died, it will pass to my daughter Renette when I’m gone, and to her children then…”

Everybody looked at me and Lain. Lain put his arms around me and smiled, pulling me closer to him with one hand and holding the other, interlocking our fingers. I hugged him back and smiled. I smiled despite myself, turning a very self conscious shade of red. A chameleon cannot always control its transformations.

“And so, to celebrate our family’s tradition and our friends and patrons, it is our tradition here at La petite illusion, to burn these sets ourselves. We do this to wash away the success and pain of yesterday and start anew. We do this to symbolize our determination and rebirth. We do this because it takes more than fire to kill the French spirit…”

Mother passed the crossguard and knelt, the fire passed into the stream and flared up with a whoosh that made the gathered crowd gasp and then clap enthusiastically. And we followed her, me first, then Lain with Lee, hold her hand. The rest tip-toed near the edge of the mountain of rubbish, snickering as they razed the castle to the ground, Castle of the King, poor Lear, you poor bastard.

Too little care of this! Take physic, pomp.

Expose thyself to feel what wretches feel.

Thy will be done.

And so went pomp, and physic too, and then the throne and every stone, each and every brick, every single inch unto its ruin. That was our Thanksgiving, uniting us in a heathen’s Sabbath, each patron with a little colored candle, blue or white or red, just for us and not far off, just up there, just up above, was an old Watchtower deserted nowm, once a lighthouse—there were no ships no more, no more below at Le corniche, there were no ships. The fire grew ever larger as the candles fell, one after another, the line moving single file, with great caution, and with greater caution still until no longer approaching; it could feed itself.

The countdown began as “Dix!” rang out in a woman’s voice and the great trois coleur, a descending ball along a track and brightly lit, electroc-neon blue-white-red and falling with each descending number;

“Dix,” echoed back, the ball was falling and all were counting:

Neuf!

Huit!

Sept!

Six!

Sinq!

The fireworks went off in the sky, bursting into those patriotic colors, I pulled Lain close to me and put my head against his shoulder and closed my eyes, the fire calming and warming me.

Quatre!

Trois!

Deux!

The flashing lights of the trois coleur solidified as it came to a rest at the base, a base from which it would not rise for another year, next year’s New Year’s Eve, and all were clapping, hugging one another as the fireworks increased in brightness, so bright I could see the whiter whites with my eyes closed, the New Year ringing out through the French countryside.

And all together:

Un!

“Happy new year!”

And those happy people, young and old, all in great cheer and happy, thrilled by the coming year and its promise. I’d never see them again, most of them, and not without a mask. If anyone who stood there then showed up the year to follow, a year from where we stood that night, Lain and I, watching the fire grow and warm inside. One year from a curtain call for most, and finally they’d get the spotlight, center stage, never to see roses, and a shame it is for all to only get your roses when you fall, nor read the many rave reviews, a two-star epitaph on a five-star grave.

<– Return to Prologue Go to Chapter 2 –>

 

The Royal Reflection – short, 10 August 2015

1

ELANORE WAS BORN TO A ROYAL FAMILY IN THE NORTHERN-MOST TIP OF what had been Padania, in northern Italy, having come into being by accident. As Elanore lost her sight, and as she gained it inexplicably.

As an infant, before she could remember anything else, her handmaiden had burnt her eyes while straightening her unimaginable curls. And being in the part of childhood forever forgotten, she had a happy childhood, ideal, fool of love. She liked her toys, milkmaids and moo-cows. Quite happy she had been too for so long, for all her life, until she strangely woke to find a flame that seemed to speak:

“I think she’s in the country…”

Father.

She screamed as she realized what was happening. Seeing, she knew that she was seeing. It built from the center and expanded out with the width of the room, that white mantle and what a beautiful device! A clock, she’d never seen a clock, never seen a minute pass. Her father turned to face her.

When she saw him she remembered his face. Somehow, it was right. Yet everything was blinding to her there, in that moment in the morning when the sun has intruded into the bedrooms blessed with open blinds. She fled from her room into the darkened corridors of her family home, almost a castle—save for the cruddy gray bricks – this was wood, and smelled differently in different halls, having been a way for Elanore to find her way to the chamberpot room and to sit on the sell de banne.

She ran through the halls assaulted by the shapes and colors that rose out of a black mist just outside of range, a blackness she didn’t understand. Guards young and old passed the wild-eyed child as she fled that those stony corridors, lit by torches dwindling, spent as the veil of night had rose.

Nothing shook the feeling that the world was somehow wrong, the colors off; she tried to squint to take it in, subdue the light, to conquer it, to shut it off, hoping she could tame the sun, make it relent. And she came upon a mirror. It was her, she knew by instinct, as she had known her father’s face, despite never having seen it. But everything was wrong in the reflection: the eyes and hair and her complexion, chestnut colored eyes, a lovely brown, dark hair still curled – as her maid had no chance to have pressed it. She began to think – how strange! her eyes could lie, how strange a thought.

“She’s in the country…”

She heard the distant murmurs of approaching horses, her father calling out:

“Alissa!” he called. And others with him: “Signorina Alissa! Signorina!”

The retinue of men, in strange dress and manner, approached her, slowing down. The horses, what a sight! for new eyes beyond belief, such strange machines, covered in hair, larger than she’d have thought. Her father dismounted and ran up to her, pulled her into his arms and turned to walk away. He saw the mirror and turned around. He said: “So what did you think? Aren’t you the prettiest little girl in the world?”

No, she thought – she didn’t say it – she’d never thought of such a thing, a mirror that is – why would she, how? How could she have been told, and why tell the blind that such a device existed, knowing they’d never see themselves? He told her what it was, a mirror. She was intrigued and asked. “Papa,” she said, “Are there other mirrors? Better mirrors? I don’t believe it worked, the one I saw.”

“Of course,” he said. He dismissed the other men, helped her onto the horse. He made sure she was secured and hopped in front of her. .

“Hold on!” he said. She wrapped her arms around him as the horse broke into a gallop. The sky she’d often heard was full of clouds and birds was empty then and barren, an ocean she had thought, an ocean without end. And the moon hung like a thumbnail above distant treetop. They rode toward the castle and must have taken a more scenic route. She saw such things beyond belief: birds in flight, rolling hills and vineyards, bright and strange. Back in the castle she felt lost; She’d made her way around for many years without help. She held her fathers hand and he led her to a washroom. Another mirror, oblong with a gold frame above the wash-basin. Something was off; It was wrong as well. She looked away. In her father’s bed chamber she found another, a smaller vanity mirror, wrong again and so on: mirror after lying mirror; she didn’t trust the glass. They stopped for a moment in a gallery, a well-appointed, spacious room, comfortable chairs and divans. Each picture, each painting, she thought was an honest mirror, mirrors she could loved.

He introduced her to the family; his father then his uncle, distant relatives, the rest, and then her among so many, how few with that same hair and eyes, no other was a true brunette. The painting had it right, she thought, and each mirror had been wrong, imperfect glass that lied or changed to spite her. She said as much, asking her father,                                “Could you show me a better mirror?”

“A better mirror?” he asked.

“Yes,” Alissa said. “The best! Only the best. One that is as accurate as this.” She indicated the painting and smiled.

“I will in the morning, sweetheart.”

“You promise?” she asked. She took his hand and swung it back and forth. “Do you promise? Do you? Do you?”

“Yes dear,” he said. He smiled. “There is someone I can see. I promise.”

He never lied to her, and a promise she could count on, unlike her mother.

“She’s in the country…”

They were quiet at the dinner table. It was too long, she thought. The table, feeling lonely, a new feeling for the dinner table, a feeling she had not felt before. Two men in uniform stood on opposite sides of the dining table with white kerchiefs draped over their wrists, on call. She finished her meal, they took it away, and her father finished, and the table was cleared.

“Are you ready for bed?” he asked.

“Not yet,” she said. “I want to see the prettiest thing you have.”

He took walked toward her, took her hand, and said, “It’s not in the castle. But I’ll show you. You’ll love it.”

2

The night had crept up on them quietly, bathing the now dim dining hall, its candles blown out and left smoking. That candle light, those flames still seemed so personal, like living things. And she liked to watch them as her father spoke, to relive that moment when she first awoke again.

He led her from the dining hall through winding corridors with torches hanging on the walls. The shadows thrown, such strange patterns, with light and darkness split by lanterns. The castle doors came slowly slowly down and moaned. Everything seemed to make some sound or sounds, as if they spoke, not as a consequence of movement, not for her, but from personality; the doors were old and groaned but did their duty still; they had purpose, as all things did, all personable and alive. Soon they were in the courtyard, and under the canopy of distant lights, the stars! There they were, scattered in that endless ocean, stretching on and on forever, without end. A black ocean full of fire, anglerfish with entranced planets, hypnotized and trapped by its spell.

So much to take in, so very much! So much she knew she’d never know, never could know, never hear of all of them nor their names, and silent all of them, so far away like all of space and quiet, She fell asleep underneath the constellations as her father spoke, imagining those distant fires as candlelights themselves, with the same voice.

“And that is Ariene, and Toros, and Pesci there, and my sign Acquario, your mothers there, Gemelli, and yours..,”

Alissa was fast asleep. Dreaming in color, too; she was a fire like the rest; and spoke to kids as that same flame that managed to light her life, bring her the stars; among them now and uncontained by mirrors or frames unbound by math just change; never stopping endless never still. Breathing and stretching in such freedom with such relish, a longing she had never known and it went on. Sparks struck into flame and swelled orange at first then red, then white and finally blue and bright bright beyond compare it flashed and ebbed away. One after another flaring into flame and life just to subside as had all others growing faint, growing dim each light, each point she had just slept under in such peace. Each point followed in its fashion, some larger and some brighter yet none of them were lasting; finally they were far away, as far as they had been when she had listened to her father. She heard him speaking, voice of the last stars each fading, ever darker, ever gray. She woke in the comfort of her bed. She could hear father talking to someone, a woman; the voice was familiar.

Alissa heard her father say, “Whatever you ask,” he said. “It’s yours.”

The woman walked into the room. Alissa’s father followed close behind, “I have something for you…”

The woman held an object, egg-shaped on one end , straight on the other; cased in black satin, tied at the hilt with a golden tassel.

“This,” said she, “is very special, a magical object. Your father said you wanted the best of all the mirrors, best in the whole wide world, is that right?”

“Yes, ma’am,” said Alissa.

“Well,” she said, “look at this!”

The velvet sheet fell to the floor as a glittering object, mostly silver, slid from it into one hand, then to both. The glass was more liquid than solid, unusual and restless; the mirror moved—the mirror moved! Changing shapes and changing colors always shifting restless, so it seemed. The woman said, “This is a very special mirror. This mirror tells only truth, while other mirrors only show what’s real. This will show your true face no matter what, whether you wish to see it or not. It is a camaleonte, alive… Do you know that is?”

“It is a lizard,” said the princess. “A chameleon.”

“Yes,” the lady said. “This is the Chameleon Mirror.”

3

The young girl nodded.

“But,” she said, “Pardon, ma’am. Could I see it work before I try it?”

“How clever!” said the lady. She had a toothy smile. “Do you still have your dolly?”

Alissa looked around. She hadn’t thought of toys, not since she woke at least. She didn’t know how to find them, not with her eyes. She lay back as if to sleep, pretending for a moment, and replayed her usual routine. She sat up with her eyes closed then felt her way around, out of the bed across the carpet, onto the wooden floor, then to the corner. Her old toy-chest, made of soft-wood, had a cold, metallic switch and buckle. She groped about until she found a wooden doll, a dairy-made she’d never seen. She opened her eyes to finally see. The shirt was white and bilious, the dress was red and wrinkled; her shoes were black, her stockings white. Alissa walked across the room and sat down again. The lady smiled. She took the doll and said: “My daughter had one of these!”

She placed the doll in front of the mirror and – the mirror moved! The mirror moves, Alissa thought. it changed from an amorphous shade of neutral grey and blank and bit by bit became defined; sketchy at first then color sprang into life coloring the face. It looked different immediately, but Alissa didn’t know exactly why or how. There was a discomfort in the face, an emotion, a pained expression somehow. Alissa looked at the doll in the mirror, then to the real doll; at first glance they seemed the same, but the mirror gave it personality; it told the truth by some strange voodoo that the real doll for some reason could not manage. The reflection in the mirror was more true than the milk-maid’s face.

“Well?” the lady interrupted. “Would you like to see it work on you?”

Alissa thought for a moment, wondering truly, wondering what question she wanted answered; none, she thought, had troubled her before she woke to find the speaking candlelight.

“I want you to look!”

The lady’s smile faltered a bit but did not fail. She said, “Of course.”

She turned the mirror to her face. It sprung to life again, shifted from a settled palette, undefined, and bursting colors sprung from beneath the liquid surface and hurried into place, each more definitive, putting the face together bit by bit as she looked on. A lively woman appeared, not unkind nor kind, came together dot by dot, color by color until the surface settled into a stern, more wistful countenance. The face was younger, much younger, but the eyes were older, weary and tired but sharp, acute and penetrating. She became beautiful through that same magic. And Alissa took the handle but the lady grabbed her hand.

“Are you sure you want to see?” she asked. “If you look, you can’t take it back.”

And without thinking she said yes, compelled and egged on by that magic. Alissa took the handle into her hands and held it up to her face and focused. Colors rushed from the lining silver toward the center, dark colors first, the outline in dark colors then new colors softer, beige and lesser brown, each softer, more subtle shades all marching towards a growing image. And the face with currents shifting settling, colors barging into one another, merging, and finally settled. She looked into the eyes on the mirror’s face, her face. It was … was it? Was it?

“Take it away!” she screamed. “Take it away!”

4

Alissa pushed the mirror away and covered her face, holding her eyes shut tightly. Her father sat beside her. The lady – she could tell through each small sound, still at strange heights – began to redress the magic mirror. She couldn’t shake the image bu she tried, for hours hoping, praying, begging, wishing that when she slept she’d lose the image, the whole thing would go away, like a memory from childhood of a small moment, a moment no one notices or remembers; filling a bird-feed, changing the hay for the horses, something routine, something ordinary.

Her father stayed with her until the sun went down. She felt her father’s heartbeat against her shoulder, tender and supportive. She felt silly and opened her eyes. His eyes were closed, but he seemed calm. Calm enough, at least. And he put his head on her shoulder, looking, she knew, for some sort of support from her.

And she said, “I’m sorry.”

He laughed and asked:

“What did you see?”

“The painting,” the princess said. “It just didn’t seem like me.”

“It’s okay,” he said. “It’s okay.”

She’d find out later to her shame the kind of fee her father paid for a mirror, for such magic. The price for her to get to see had cost her father’s sight. She thought back to that night with him, leading him outside into the courtyard and then on the hill under the black velvet blank full of stars. He got comfortable on his back. She wanted to show him she remembered, the stars from the night before. She put her finger on his stomach first, “I remember,” she said. She pressed into his stomach, “Here is Ariete,” she moved onward, sideways, “And Leone right here,” she kept on drawing. “Pesci of course and your sign Acquario, that’s yours and mama’s sign is here, Gemelli…”

“Wait!” she cried. “Where is my mother?”

“She’s in the country,” he said. He repeated a few more times and was quiet. She understood and never asked again. She continued with the constellations on his stomach, on his chest. And when she stopped, he said: “You forgot yourself.”

He pulled her hand above his heart and said, “Right here.”

“Toro!”

Poem: Willow (from Counterpane)

I
NO SIGNAL

Not far from here, not long ago,
an old man heard the voice of God—
through his old radio.
He lived with Willow,
his son—the Mute,
who never spoke a word.
His father did not care, he knew,
that when he prayed God heard.
All was well until the day,
the signal seemed to fade.
where once was the voice of God,
a tawdry ballad played.

He stayed awake all night and tried,
through the darkness light to find,
and could not tune back in.
His digital dials attempted forever
though deep down he knew he’d never
hear God’s sweet voice again
The holy frequency was gone,
and that old man, now scared, alone,
to the basement did descend.
His saddened son above remained,
while his father went insane,
yet all he did was pray.
“Don’t leave him in the dark, like that,
why have you left, will you come back?”
and yet the silence stayed.
“Bring him back to grace, and home.
Don’t leave him in the dark, alone.”

He paced about the basement dark,
oft lit by radiator sparks.
A sick God seemed to rise;
In the twisted shape of his dad, late,
were tired and bloodshot eyes.
“The child must go,” the sick God said.
“There are devils in his head.
The child—the Mute—must die.

“I’ll give you the frequency,
so you can tune back into me;
you know just what to dial.
The sick God in his father’s skin,
faded into black again,
and ‘lone the old man cried.
It goes on now, to never end,
like that which did not begin.

II
FOR YESTERDAY

The silence stayed for several days,
on antique speakers never played,
the sublime songs of God delayed;
Just echoes of a man who screamed,
and tufts of smoke in slanting beams,
the day was sickly gray.
The old man with his knives in hand,
walked the quiet stairs to stand,
in Willow’s gold doorway.

And on the pillow,
lay there, Willow,
who silent cried for help.
He prayed for his father, and,
his lovely long lost mother Anne
but never for himself.
destiny weaves spider webs—
the tide comes in, the water ebbs,
leaving shells upon the shelf.

The disconnected loved ones mourn,
their life upon the shore forlorn,
where once they went to play.
The sunshine and the ocean breeze,
they made sandcastles by the sea.
When they were done—
down went the sun,
and then they tired lay.
The sun went down,
when Willow frowned—
a lament for the day.
That which never did begin
like a circle will not end.

III
ANGEL IN THE DESERT

The crazed old man sat by his son,
on a ragged racecar bed.
He said, “We have to talk, my son.”
Yet Willow turned his head.
He tucked him in, and sang his song
until his son had safely gone
to the dream world Gilead.

And while there, the pale blue air,
in dancing circles did not care,
and words passed through the sky.
Amidst the endless wheatfield stalks,
above he heard a lost crow squawk,
and his lost mother’s cry.

He ran blind into the field,
his hands before him grasped to feel,
and Willow came to find:
A radio and crying tape,
he knew at once he was too late;
the digital crying died.
It hacked and coughed,
and then shut off;
young saddened Willow sighed.

Willow in the wheatfield heard,
the sound of something like a bird;
he stood and looked around.
All he saw was trees, and quiet,
twisted trees their shapes beside it,
and the shrouds of silken clouds
looked just like his mother’s gown—
he chased it through the night.
Through the rows of stalks,
he heard his mother call.
He walked amongst the dying leaves
as they around him fall.

He found her on a quiet hill,
a breathing mannequin lying still—
he then walked up the slope.
He knelt and tried to hold her hand—
it slipped away like grains of sand,
and then turned into smoke.

Don’t cry for me,
my sweet, you’ll see,
at rest in El Dorado.
The wind picked up,
the voice was gone,
and he was on the hill alone,
until, at last, he thought:
How could what did not begin,
ever stop or ever end?

IV
THE MAN IN THE MIRROR

Beside him when he woke, there lay,
a hundred knives lay by his face.
as chalk around a corpse and facing in.
Outside his door his father wept—
and then with bloodshot eyes he crept,
from the basement to the den.
Willow wished to call his name—
he tried “I love you”—nothing came,
then silent Willow sighed again.

Underground his father watched,
the man in the mirror he forgot,
his mind was white noise now.
The ticking clock above had stopped,
like crumpled paper Roger dropped,
again he heard the sound.

The sun came up—to his surprise;
The radiator shrieked, and cried,
and static seemed to drown:
Roger stumbled to his feet,
and his eyes tired seemed the greet:
his father’s pictures spread around.

The more he stared—the wall,
which bore,
His father’s pictures smeared with
WHORE
written in blood,
like caked on mud,
he tore the pictures from the wall,
shouts his son heard down the hall—
with vertigo he stood.
The tempest of the moment gone,
he remained there, cold alone;
he tacked his father’s
blood stained pictures,
on the wall again:
only to take them off once more:
the circle never ends.

V
THE TREE THAT SEED BECAME TO BE

Willow had his mother’s eyes,
as blue as springtime azure skies;
his hair was tasseled, black.
He got his name from an old tree,
where his father asked his mother,
“Will you marry me?”
She said yes and they both sat,
together in one silhouette,
when love and life was free.

Five months later they were wed—
the newlyweds played in their bed,
and planted the seed.
over the months it steady grew,
until the seed itself had bloomed,
when Willow came to be.

And all the wond’rous years that followed—
one after another ‘morrow,
were joyful times for all;
They ate together, smiled, and laughed,
as hour after hour passed,
as an apple from a tree to fall.

VII
LIFE IN ONE STANZA GONE

All was well, and life was bright,
until wandered in that night,
when they played lost and found.
Willow splashed in pools of rain,
when a car passed in the lane,
and lifeless Anna hit the ground.
Her young son,
now frightened, stunned,
heard but a ringing sound.

Willow by his mother lay,
unable, as he wished to say,
mother I love you so.
He watched her life drain,
as she died,
he saw that frightened look,
her eyes,
and she dissolved like smoke.

Silent Willow, by the grave,
stood by as the reverend prayed:
“Let Anna find her rest.”
Even as hard as Willow tried—
he couldn’t hold back as he cried,
and Willow did his best.
They buried her beneath the tree,
the weeping willow in the spring—
in the orchard where they loved:
The sad and listless loves one lost,
in tears they stood above.

VII
IN FALL WHEN FALL THE LEAVES

Later on when he got home—
he stood in his room alone,
and wistful held his breath.
That poem, he thought,
that poem of old—
in lyricism quaint yet bold:
You are what you become, no less.

He could not live without his Anne,
but Willow did his best.
He met a lawyer late that night,
and found his mother’s locket white—
it dangled on his chest.
On each side, when open pried,
a picture of himself.

One of them, a child who cried,
the other—Willow smiling wide:
“You were the world to me, my son,
And now that you are gone—
I only want to tell you now,
I heard your every song.”

He did his best all of his life,
when terrified awake at night,
his mother’s ghost appeared:
Don’t you love me?
Can you say it?
The forlorn loved one leered.
Willow tried to speak again,
just silence with his mouth open:
his mother disappeared.

He lay there in the bed, at night—
his hands clenching the covers tight,
hoping his mother would appear.
And sobbing Willow on his pillow,
thought that he could hear:
the love and comfort in his mother,
be replaced by fear.

VIII
THE LIGHTHOUSE GONE

In the years that after passed,
Willow seldom—if all—laughed,
instead in silence moped;
his father waited in the hall—
with his back against the wall,
that his son would see the light—
the light of God at night to strike,
that he might hear the good Lord call—
though all he heard was silence, all;
the shadows danced the night.
Amidst the shadows that he saw—
the ones that up his wall had crawled,
his mother— his dead lighthouse bright.

Anna’s ghost transparent white,
came to Roger in the night:
I guess you’ve left me, nothing new,
my father and your father too.
I guess you’re gone,
and I have grown;
that’s what we always do.
We all leave, and in the end—
return to whence we came again,
and so the circle goes.

IX
THE NEVER ENDING VALLEY

The tragedy of those days gone,
his father underground, alone:
tacked pictures on the wall.
Where once was his father’s face,
his own sadness had replaced:
and above it, as with all:
he scrawled above his pictures, that,
what once was red was written black.
BASTARD in his blood he scrawled,
in his despair he heard a call—
the sickly God of old was back.
“If you wish to save your son,
I’m sure you know what must be done.”
and the voice slipped through the cracks.

Roger made the preparations,
for the junkie constellations.
The needle sighed, Roger, relieved,
Thought about his son and then,
saw the valley by the bend,
and felt the ocean breathe.
It was the song, that sing along,
the Earth’s soliloquy.
Roger was so close to drowning,
in a numb opiate sea

There amidst the rich green grass—
under a blue sky made of glass,
Roger was at peace.
Paradise was within sight—
where grew a never dying light:
the never-ending valley of the free.
And then he saw behind his eyes—
that far flung long gone night:
when laughing Willow, in the rain,
skipped through puddles as he sang,
his mother’s smile so bright.
And when she faded like a flame,
Roger had himself to blame;
he thought of Humpty Dumpty,
and saw it was his life:
and he thought that he was not
put back together right.

The quiet children, pale, naive,
lay in their beds in far off dreams—
of velvet skies and golden streams,
and watch the good Sol die by eve.
to lose it is not high a price,
and no one has to grieve.
Just a flicker of the eye,
Another pilgrim passes by,
as yet another leaves,
That which never did begin,
in no way could come to end.

IX
AUTUMN

Roger walked the stairs with care,
Looked through doorway, Willow there,
On his side and legs withdrawn.
For a moment Roger watched,
And all the moments he forgot,
Drowned him as the dawn.
He took the needle from his pocket,
and his mother Anna’s locket,
and then he shot the faun.

Willow woke and saw his dad,
in the chair beside his bed
with tear stains in his eyes—
What’s wrong daddy? Willow wrote
“I’m sorry,” Roger penned a note.
And nervous turned to leave.
But Willow drowsy wrote, to ask,
“Will you read to me?”

His father Roger turned around,
went by the bed and sat back down,
“Of course I can,” his father, pleased.
“What do you think that I should read?”
“On the bookshelf by the door—”
He wrote it down just like before.
“—was a book my mommy read to me.”
Before she died on Blossom St.

Roger pushed the chair and stood,
and walked across old planks of wood—
to his son’s bookshelf.
Sitting on top of clothes and socks,
Was an old book dog-eared at the top,
a book he’d bought himself.
A Child’s Garden of Verses,
he found the favorite verse of his;
and read it to himself:

When I was sick and lay in bed,
I had two pillows at my head,
And all my toys beside me lay,
To keep me happy through the day.

Sometimes for an hour or so,
I watched my leaden soldiers go,
With different uniforms and drills,
Among the bed clothes through the hills

And sometimes sent my ships in fleets,
All up and down amongst the sheets,
Or bright my trees and houses out,
And planted cities all about.

I was the giant great and still
That sits upon the pillow hill,
And sees before him, dull and plain,
The pleasant land of Counterpane.

He took a pillow from the bed,
and put it over Willow’s head:
Willow gasped but could not call,
His father pressed down on his nose,
that stained the pillow like a rose.
A minute passed, with his last gasp,
a silent child named Willow passed.

X
THE MURAL IN THE CLOSET

He took his body to the basement,
were he kept Willow’s replacement:
a gaudy harlot mannequin.
He unlocked the closet door,
and drug his son across the floor—
and the white noise came again.

He propped it up as Willow sat—
in Willow’s clothes and baseball hat,
and Roger grabbed the bin.
The pictures of young Willow spread
across the wall and down the halls.
The white noise came again.

Above the pictures lined in rows,
He wrote in thick white paint
WILLOW
he closed the closet door behind,
and tried to keep it from his mind,
he walked in an unsteady line;
to the sofa apropos.
The sound of static hissing, cracked,
it seemed the sick God had came back.

He tried to trace the source,
the sound,
and on the radio he found—
such an old song playing slow.
It reminded him of that lost day,
just him and Willow on the lake,
they climbed into the boat.

They made their way to deeper water,
and Willow smiled beside his father—
the winds of Spring began to blow.
They sang together in the breeze,
the thought made Roger hit his knees:
he changed the channel on the old,
radio he wish he’d sold;
tears were streaming down his face—
his heart had quickened in its pace:
and then he heard the Ghost.

He changed the channel, yet he heard,
a string of disconnected words,
all soft as they came in.
Behind the songs and sing-a-longs,
“Daddy what did I do wrong?”
As he had done all of his life,
Roger ran again.
As he passed a pane of glass,
Roger turned and saw, at last:
the sick God in the frame was him.

He hurried up the creaking stairs,
and opened up his dresser, where,
lay the only gun he had.
He ran back to the basement, and,
his wife and son stood hand to hand;
he put the magnum to his head.
After a flash he hit the ground,
slurring words he twitched around—
and Roger lay there dead.

Roger passed by in a dream,
as he unraveled at the seams:
trapped in his mind alone.
Frozen in a chair beside,
the ghost of Willow which replied:
“Daddy what did I do wrong?”
He repeated the question,
over and over,
The question went unheard,
and Roger could not reply.
There he was inside his mind,
and trapped he could not cry.

With silent Willow standing by him,
in vain he often tried:
to say those words, Will wished to hear:
just a simple, “Daddy’s here.”
Their souls are stuck—
between two worlds,
a silent circle not to end:
like that which did not begin.
And they came like water,
and as wind they go:
they’re all buried underneath,
that old and weeping Willow.

Chameleon Mirror – The Lie of Morning

I woke in the early morning, my phone glowing with the numbers: 2:55 – it was morning, I’d been awake for a moment only, missing by ten minutes the cliché of Witching Hour. I was assured in the knowledge that only a hundred kilometers east, a train of demons was seating and on its way from limbo into the past I was apathetic to have woken in. My clock I thought must be wrong, as the colors between my blinds were the distinct blue of a coming dawn, the first hint on those long days and nights alone. I noticed that it was just a trick, dawn still many hours away: the false dawn was a set-up, deliberate or otherwise, by Lain.

He was sitting by my bed across the room, laptop on his lap and writing away. I was at my desk, laptop on hand and writing away. He asked if I could close the blinds, being annoyed by the beam of light cast across his face. I said I couldn’t, as the blinds were raised so allow the air conditioner to be used. He put his laptop down, took off his shirt, a ratty, green away that one would assume to have a checkered past, and pushed it between the blinds to blot out the shaft of light the impolite sun was casting. He returned to his seat and sat down again, finding the light not properly curtailed, and rose again. He went through my bureau until he found a black, long-sleeved shirt. He squeezed it between the curtain rods and stuffed the rest behind the other shirt and smiled as he watched the beam of light bow out and fall away from where he sat.

And now with the only light in my bedroom a digital candle, a unique present to say the least, the black and green in the low light somehow mixed to impersonate the dim but dark blue of a coming dawn. I like it, the way such opposites mixed enough to make me fall for the idea of a rising sun. I kept it, often waking with the same feeling, falling happily for the same trick, to think of dawn being sooner, to think of Lain.

Chapter 1 – Curtains Up

My name is Renette, after Madame de Pompadore, famed mistress to the King of France. I went to Lycee Montgrande, a small drama-school by the coast. I work at a theatre, Le petit illusion. It was opened by my grandfather after the Second World War and left to mother in his will. An only child, I had no brothers or sisters but mother tried; and my imaginary friend, poor Wiggle was supportive. Mother was a critically acclaimed cunt and successful stage manager at the theater. Creating depth is the floor plan, the design that is: how large to make the stage, how deep the horseshoe box, how large the auditorium?

We use drop and wing sets like the ladies of Sabo; some backgrounds are lowered down and some recycled and shifted as the stage is rotated, some pulled into focus across a sliding background. I painted some of them. It’s a salon of machines; sets may be changed and rotated as the story demands. There is great effort in hiding the frame around the performance, the frame of the illusion – a chariot and pole system, pulleys and strong ropes. When a set dried we covered it in rabbit-skin glue and mounted them, pushed them into frame, rotated the stage and brought the mockingbirds into focus. Continue reading

Release date for The Chameleon Mirror set: 24 August 2015

From chapter 17, A Pocket-Sized Mirage

That’s the conceit, that to put on costumes put on make-up put on masks remember your lines and it’ll mean something, someone may love and maybe you, and maybe it’s more, more than a group of costumed men reciting words of men and women now long dead. It’s just how characters without character become great if for a moment, Alain may at his best be some Iago or a Lear, but strove I felt to be the King’s fool. And I guess he was, I’d give him that, perhaps more Edward though, and his bastard’s revolt, to be sincere, a director like Pinocchio had Gepetto loved him. And it’s easy! so much easier; isn’t it? To play Proust’s goddess Mme. de Guermants or the enchantress Albertine or perhaps Bovary, because it meant something, somehow, someone cared. Because they meant something to so many, and through osmosis this makes us mean something, at best, if not to ourselves but someone. So we say the things they say and wear their clothes, what do those without talent do but play some better written part? Continue reading